Category Archives: Heroic Virtue

Addressing Parental Fears as Christians

There has been a comment on my earlier post about the things  we as Christians should not fear, and I have been meaning to write a reply for some time.

What do you say to a mother who lives in constant fear of harm befalling her family? Especially when so many think God is the one who will bring these horrible things to happen.  It seems that God promises to keep us from much harm and evil if we will stay very very close to Him. The problem is many people do not stay there.

There are two comments or questions in this one comment to address. First, what counsel do you offer a parent who is anxious about harm befalling her family? Second, does God cause harm, horrible things, or evil to happen to those who stray from Him?

The First Question

As a father of 7, I am well aware of the concerns of a parent for their child, in both physical and spiritual matters. My wife and I long ago came to a realization that has at least allowed us to not be anxious about this: They are not our children. They are God’s children.

Every promise God has made to you He has also made to your children. You are worth more than many sparrows, and so are your children (Mt 10:29-31).  Furthermore, you can not even affect your own body (Mt 5:36) much less that of your children.

The Gospels are even more clear when you consider Christ’s discourse on taking care of your children:

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Perhaps, when you are feeling like the well-being of your children is on your shoulders, read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as if you were watching Jesus deliver the sermon directly to your children; listen to Him make the promises to them, knowing that God will care for them as much as He has promised to care for you.

The Second Question

I do not believe that God causes evil. We suffer the effects of sin, both consequences of our sin and those of others, that God allows. In fact, I believe that we suffer much fewer consequences than we by all rights ought to suffer because of God’s protection.

In Romans 5:12 Paul points out that ” just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…” Death, as well as bad things and suffering, are all a consequence of sin, not a consequence of God.

A parent with a young child will tell the child not to touch a hot stove. If the child touches the stove and gets burned, was it the parent that caused the child’s hand to blister, or the natural consequence?

God sometimes allows us to suffer the consequences of our sins more fully than other times. We even suffer consequences of other people’s sins. But it is important to realize that these consequences, these bad things, are not something God dishes out, but that happened due to a consequence of sin.

As Christians, we also believe that there is an intelligent, malicious being that seeks our ruin. 1 Peter 5:8 warns that “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Despite what harm may come to us, every moment, every good thing, every blessing we enjoy is experienced by the grace and protection of God shielding us from this evil one. We do not enjoy what we can in life because of the laziness or ineptitude of the devil, but because of the power of God.

Consider the book of Job. Job is righteous, and yet it is the devil who causes harm to him and his family only after God allows it.

Thing then brings up the question – why does God allow us to suffer at all? Along those same lines, why do some people seem to suffer more than others? Why does it seem that it is the good that suffer more, in some cases?

The Scriptures teach us that God allows suffering, harm, and bad things to happen to those whom He loves. Hebrews 12:6-11 cites Proverbs 3:12:

For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,  And He scourges every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In Romans 5:3-5 Paul counsels the church in Rome to “exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

God also allows good and bad things to happen to both those close to Him and those who reject Him – Matthew 5:45 points out that He makes it rain on both the just and the unjust.  In the parable of the wheat and weeds, He allows the good and the bad to come up together until the final judgement (Matthew 13:24-30).

My point in all of this is that God may allow suffering for a consequence of our sin, as all sin (including the original sin of Adam and Eve) affects our lives negatively.

In addition to that, God allows those very close to Him and very far from Him to experience bad things and suffering, but for our good and benefit. He allows it so that we will rely on Him more and ourselves less – for this reason it is often that He will give us more than we can handle on our own, but not more than He can handle for us if we come closer to Him.

Just as I pointed out in response to the first question, He knows what is best for us and has promised to take care of each and every one of us, including our children. Do not be anxious about their welfare, for their own free will and relationship with God is not something you can control. The most we can do is to aid them in every way we can to develop a loving, trusting relationship with God.

There really isn’t enough room here to go into all the problems of pain and suffering, but hopefully this is encouraging for the many parents who face anxiety and fear over the welfare of their children.

Rite of Initiation to the Ministry of St. Nicholas

As a Christian parent, how you handle the Santa issue is one of those hot-button issues. Some keep the tradition going, others see participating in the idea of Santa giving gifts as dishonest.

My wife and I have encouraged the belief in Santa Claus, and are not ashamed to admit we still believe in the mission of St. Nicholas of Myra, and acknowledge miracles that take place in the carrying out of that ministry.

The parental challenge, therfore, is how to transition those young children that believe in Santa Claus (with the constant reminder of who he really is/was and in Whose Name he does his work) through the adolescent years to a second childhood of belief?  How do you have that awkward conversation in the first place?

Before our oldest came of age to know the whole story, I had the idea to create a rite of passage ritual. After all, the “magic” or belief in miracles should not end when the idea of flying reindeer and a North Pole workshop HQ pass away.  Instead, the belief in heroic charity should be stirred.

In the tradition of G.K.C.’s Detection Club and disclosing the ceremonies of secret societies, I have decided to post the ceremony we use. Feel free to adapt it to your own use. I had thought of including it in as an appendix to I Hate Christmas, but it did not quite fit the purpose of that book.

We typically conduct the ceremony on the night of December 6 (St. Nicholas’ feast day) with the advent wreath’s candles (with however many lit as ought to be at that point) as the only light. The initiate is summoned from their bed after their younger siblings have fallen asleep. Those already initiated stand on one side of the table, the initiate on the other.

After the initiation, the child takes an active role in Santa activities, such as assisting with shopping, present research, and Christmas eve setup – although their own gifts generally remain a surprise.

The Rite of Initiation

[Name], in Christmases past, you have received gifts from others, in the Christian tradition of the Magi who gave gifts to the Christ Child, and St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave gifts in the name of Jesus.

Your Christmas gifts in the past have been given to you by friends and family. Some have also come in the name of Santa Claus, the immortal spirit of St. Nicholas’ gift-giving ministry.

Stories and legends of Santa Claus living at the North Pole and using flying reindeer to deliver gifts have become popular. These stories try to explain the impossible with stories of magic, and as such are not true.

However the truth about Santa Claus is mystical and incredible. Over the centuries, during the month of December, all around the world, gifts are still given in the name of Santa Claus anonymously by millions of people to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The generosity of this spirit is the cause of many miracles at this time of year.

By using the name Santa Claus – a name for St. Nicholas that has changed over time – Christmas gifts arrive miraculously. This way children associate the winter festival of Christmas and its miraculaous gift-giver with the origianal Christmas Miracle – the birth of our Lord and Savior.

[Name], you have grown in wisdom these past few years, and now understand the true reason of Christmas, and the great importance it represents for yourself and all humanity.

For the sake of those still too young to realize what you have come to know, I hereby invite you to join the ministry of St. Nicholas as an anonymous gift-giver, using the title of Santa Claus.

I also give you the symbols of our ministry:

A Gold Coin – St. Nicholas gave to those in need – the gift of charity. Be mindful of what others need.

A Candy Cane – The giving of a gift is often not about meeting a need, but the spreading of joy. Remember also to give things to others that they will enjoy.

A Santa Hat – All gifts come from God, and so we must seek to give anonymously and in secret so others remember to give thanks to Him. The name of Santa Claus allows us to do so. Remember to give in secret, and protect the mystery of Santa Claus.

For the very young, the fanciful stories of Santa Claus lend exceptional myth and mystery to the true meaning of Christmas. Until those young people grow in wisdom enough to put aside such beliefs, do not dissuade them. Teach them of the story of the Christ child, and remind them of the reason for gift-giving and celebration in the midst of winter while allowing them the more fanciful stories as well. In time, they too will join us in the secret arts of Christmas gift giving, and their recollection of a childhood of wonders will be as a cloak about them in the cold, bitter harshness of a world that denies the supernatural.

Welcome, [Name], to the Ministry of St. Nicholas. Through your gifts, and those of everyone who takes part in the tradition of gift-giving, may God bless us, everyone.

3 Prophetic Warnings From America’s Founding Fathers That Have Gone Unheeded

One of the human race’s favorite games, according to G.K. Chesterton, is called “Cheat the Prophet.” In this age-old game, the players listen to what wise or clever men say, and when they die, they bury them nicely and go an do something different.

As it is about that time when we celebrate the birth of American independence and remember the trials our Founding Fathers endured, the wisdom they imparted, and the genius of the system we have inherited from them. And since they have all been buried nicely, we have gone and made something rather different.

Here are just three of the many warnings and predictions those wise men passed to us, but that have been ignored to our peril.

Continue reading 3 Prophetic Warnings From America’s Founding Fathers That Have Gone Unheeded

Coffee Doesn’t Cure Acedia

The many changes over the past seven months (and more) with this site and my work has a rather simple explanation. After about 7 years of freelancing, I got a regular job.

The biggest adjustment for my family has been the time; a commute, 8 hours of work or more, lunch time that doesn’t count – almost half the week is now spent away from home.

I now spend most of my waking hours in the “normal” world of an American office. A small but growing company, and having worked for smaller and larger companies in the past there is a lot that stays the same regardless of industry, decade, and state in which the office exists.

There’s the usual temptation to vice that goes along with working in the modern office environment. As I am currently reading a lot of old texts on the virtues and vices for a new project, the reading and research and daily grind have made the overlap stand out. There’s envy, of course, whenever you have gatherings of people, greed whenever money and goods are involved, wrath as tempers flare and patience wanes, pride abounds and there is even lust – though fortunately it presents itself in its older form, luxury, for most of us.

But if I had to pick one vice most plagued the modern workplace, I would not hesitate to name acedia. A word considered so archaic spell check doesn’t recognize it. Over generations the vice became referred to as sloth, and equated with laziness. As with all evil, it has worked best when it keeps us unaware of itself.

The Office Vice

Take this scenario:

For Bob, time at the office begins to slow down as lunch approaches. It feels as though it completely stops after lunch. It is as if the clock does not move at all, and a day feels like a week. He doesn’t feel like he’s making much headway on the tasks and goals at hand, and he’s got tabs open on his browser for news, weather, ebay or craigslist. He leans back in is chair and glances at his fellow works, to see if he might happen to make eye contact and they can discuss some matter – work related or not.  He remembers that Lucy, in sales, had a daughter that was sick with something last week, maybe he should go and ask her how the kid is doing. It would be the nice thing to do, right? Maybe John in receiving could use a hand.

His mind wanders to a reminder from LinkedIn that a fraternity brother has gotten a new title at his job. What if they had stayed on the West Coast? He’d probably be making more money. Definitely be a lot happier. Heck, Bob’s downright certain he would be making more of a difference in the world. After all, that is what he’s supposed to be doing with his life, isn’t it?

You wouldn’t exactly call Bob lazy, and the scenario is probably all too familiar.

Now compare it with a description of Acedia – a vice considered the most dangerous by the desert monks of the 5th century:

The demon of acedia – also called the noonday demon (Psalm 91:6) – is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour (10 am) and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. (2 pm)

First of all he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour (3 pm), to look now this way and now that to see if perhaps [one of the brethren appears from his cell]. Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred.

This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to he adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of the ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight.

Rings pretty true, even though the monk Evagrius wrote it some 1600 years ago. Evagrius was so concerned about the vice that he described it is a demon that “rips the soul apart as a dog would kill a fawn”

Acedia practically defines the workplace attitude. Whether the afternoon lull is referred to as a ‘lazy day’ or being ‘food-stupid’ or remarks are made about how everyone is just ‘out of it.’ The mood has a name, though it has almost been forgotten.

How do more and more people cope with it? Caffeine. Energy Drinks. 5-Hour Energy fought its way into the market with the slogan that it beat “the two-o’clock feeling.” Imagine how ridiculous it would be to develop a tonic to beat any other particular vice! I’m sure it will happen, and has happened. But for the moment it is happening, and no one quite realizes it because the name and definition of the vice has shifted over time.

Evagrius describes ascedia as “an ethereal friendship, one who leads our steps astray, hatred of industriousness, a battle against stillness … laziness in prayer… untimely drowsiness, revolving sleep… an opponent of perseverance … a partaker in sorrow, a clock for hunger.” Even he who defined it (and the other chief vices for the first time) had a hard time defining it. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church defined it more succinctly as “a state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray.” Restlessness is a key trait of acedia, and yet not something we associate with being lazy. Being a busybody, gossip, or just doing busywork may appear to be industrious, doing something, and “not lazy,” but all are actually acedia.

If you think about it, our culture’s obsession with current events, celebrity stalking, and the 24-hour news day all are symptoms of acedia also. It’s not slothful to stay informed, but it isn’t industrious.

So in a nutshell, checking Facebook one more time, taking a stroll about the office, and getting another cup of coffee are not going to break “the two-o’clock feeling.”

The Cure for Acedia

What actually is the cure for acedia? First of all, being aware of it. Acedia has managed to be so entrenched because it is seen as acceptable, even unavoidable. The idea of naming a power to conquer it has some truth here: name the noonday demon, pray for the strength to overcome, and consciously fight it, and it will have little power over you.

Evagrius writes in the Eight Thoughts that perseverance, “the execution of all tasks with great attention” and the fear of God are the cure for acedia. “Set a measure for yourself in every work and do not let up until you have completed it. Pray with understanding and intensity, and the spirit of acedia will flee from you. ”

You can also keep in mind the following words from the Hagakure, the Book of the Samurai (and quoted in The Way of the Christian Samurai):

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.”

Attentiveness, awareness, prayer, and perseverance – and charity. Test every moment, every act, against the test of charity. Is what I am doing loving God and my neighbor? Or am I distracting myself and my neighbor?

Further reading on the Internet: